Why sponsor? Becoming a sponsor is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself in recovery. The relationship between sponsor and sponsee is a very structured one, one where you can work on your own relationship skills without the complications of romance, family ties or work. Some of the skills you will develop as a sponsor are acceptance, being emotionally present for someone else, listening, and letting go of the results.

Many of us have great difficulty giving love and support without either trying to control the situation or becoming a doormat. Sponsorship can provide a safe space to experience giving loving, caring support within a structured CoDA framework. In addition to developing your own relationship skills, being a sponsor will help you to a better understanding of the CoDA twelve step recovery program. For example, although you may have thought you really understood what it means to accept your powerlessness over others, explaining the concept to someone else may reveal new meanings to you. You may find that in order to answer a sponsee's questions, you have to spend some time studying CoDA literature for the answers, and this can only help you in your own program.

But mostly, sponsoring someone may help you by:

Who can be a sponsor? Almost anyone can sponsor another person. After all, the very first twelve step program did not have anyone with years of experience who could serve as sponsors for its founding members. In fact, you may find that forming a partnership with another person where each of you agrees to sponsor the other can meet both of your needs. In general, it is recommended that you have been attending meetings and working the steps yourself for at least six months before you start to sponsor someone else. You may not have finished working the steps, but if you are farther along than your potential sponsee, you have experience to offer that person.

The main quality that a sponsor needs is a commitment to working the twelve steps of recovery. After all, the job of the sponsor is to help the sponsee apply the twelve steps to his or her life so if the sponsor isn't striving to do the same, there won’t be much experience to offer.

Beyond that, all you really need to sponsor someone is a willingness to listen to that person and to give feedback as dispassionately as possible.

How do I give feedback? Giving feedback does not mean giving advice; it means sharing your experience, strength, and hope, and directing your sponsee to the appropriate recovery tools of CoDA. For example, if your sponsee is contemplating ending a romantic relationship, it would be inappropriate for you to suggest that the sponsee either end the relationship or stay in it. Instead, you might suggest the sponsee pray for help in making the decision, take some time to write about the relationship in terms of the twelve steps, or read some CoDA literature on the subject of relationships. Some sponsors find it useful to give feedback in the form of questions for the sponsee to consider.

Must I have a sponsor in order to sponsor someone else? We believe it is better if you have your own sponsor. As mentioned above, you may find it helpful to sponsor someone who will sponsor you in return.

What is the role of the sponsor? Your role as a sponsor is to guide your sponsee through the steps, answering questions, and sharing your own experience. Often you can help a sponsee by sharing the lessons you have learned from your sponsor and by listening to other people at meetings. Listen to your sponsee as objectively as you can, striving to frame what you hear and the feedback you give in terms of the twelve steps and other program tools. For example, if your sponsee is fighting with another family member, you might suggest the sponsee look at that person in terms of the serenity prayer: what the sponsee cannot change and needs to accept and what the sponsee can change through working the steps.

You are not your sponsee's friend, though deep friendships often develop out of the sponsor-sponsee relationship. Instead, your role is more of a mentor and teacher, someone who doesn't necessarily take the side of the sponsee, but instead gives the sponsee new ways of looking at his or her situation and behavior.

There are several things that you are not. You are not your sponsee's psychiatrist, doctor, lawyer or banker. If you think such help is needed, suggest your sponsee get it from a professional.

I shouldn't sponsor someone if I'm not on the twelfth step, right? No, you have a lot to offer long before you reach Step Twelve. If you are working on the steps in your own life, you are ready to share your experience with others. If you have been attending meetings for more than a year, you will find that you have a great deal of information you have learned from other CoDA members which can be invaluable to your sponsee.

Isn't it co-dependent of me to want to run someone else's life? A sponsor does not “run” the sponsee's life. The sponsor merely gives feedback. Practicing restraint in your relationship with a sponsee can be extremely useful in the rest of your life. Accepting the sponsee for exactly who he or she is without judgment is a sign of your own recovery.

How much time is this going to take? It depends on both you and the sponsee. You can decide what works best for you. Some pairs find it useful to have a set time of the week when they meet for one or two hours. Others may do short check-in calls more often than that. Others may go for several weeks without talking, though if this goes on for too long, you might question whether or not your sponsee is really interested in working with you.

Some sponsors like to ask a new sponsee to call them every day for a set period of time (one month, two months, etc.) This serves two purposes: it allows you to assess how seriously the sponsee is about working the steps and it gets the sponsee in the habit of calling you to check in on feelings and behaviors.

I hate confrontation. How can I tell my sponsee something that might make my sponsee angry? Your feedback is just that: feedback. Whether or not the sponsee is angered by the feedback is up to him or her. Some sponsee's may take a long time to “get” the program and during that time they may not want to hear about the steps. And sometimes a sponsee will get angry about some feedback because it strikes close to home on some behavior they are just about ready to change. Your job as sponsor is simply to keep reminding the sponsee of the steps no matter how little he or she appears to practice the principles of CoDA.

What if my sponsee doesn't call me? How much should I “chase” a sponsee? As has often been said, CoDA is for those who want it, not for those who need it. This means that we should usually wait for prospective sponsee's to ask us to sponsor them and that we should not be overly zealous in pursuing a sponsee who does not return phone calls or fails to do the work he or she has committed to do.

That said, each sponsor-sponsee relationship is unique. We turn to our Higher Power for guidance regarding what is appropriate for our particular relationship.

What if I hate being a sponsor? How do I get out of it? One way to be comfortable with being a sponsor is to agree to be someone's temporary sponsor. That way if either of you wants to move on for whatever reason, you simply tell the other that you need to. Since the relationship was meant to be temporary, no one can claim to have been surprised when it ends. Often the time period for such an arrangement is left open-ended, though you might want to limit it to a couple of months or until some situation in your life changes.

For example, if you are planning on changing jobs in a few months, you might want to sponsor someone only until you start your new job. Or you might want to commit to being a sponsor for two months and then reevaluate the relationship at the end of that time. Of course, some sponsors are still working with their “temporary” sponsees five or six years later.

Twelve Tips for Sponsors

  1. You are powerless over your sponsee and your sponsee's life is unmanageable by you. Neither of you would be in CoDA if you didn't have problems with codependency.
  2. You aren't in charge; your sponsee's Higher Power is. Believe that a power greater than either one of you can restore your sponsee to sanity.
  3. Make a decision at the beginning of your relationship with your sponsee to turn the sponsee's will and life over to the care of a power greater than either one of you.
  4. Be honest with yourself about your relationship with your sponsee. This is a great opportunity to observe your own behavior in a relationship.
  5. Admit to your Higher Power, yourself, and your own sponsor when you don't know what to do.
  6. Be ready to change things that aren't working: your schedule, the literature you work with, the response you give when your sponsee keeps bringing up the same problems.
  7. Before meeting with your sponsee, you might find it helpful to say a prayer such as this: “Higher Power, use me to say whatever it is you want my sponsee to hear today.”
  8. It is all right to make mistakes. You are not in charge of your sponsee's recovery; your sponsee's Higher Power is.
  9. If you feel you have given a bad direction or suggestion, let the sponsee know.
  10. It is all right if the relationship doesn't last. You may realize after a while that you are not able to work with a particular sponsee for whatever reason.
  11. Seek through prayer and meditation to understand your Higher Power's will for you in your role as sponsor. Pray for the power to carry out that role.
  12. Remember that you are carrying the message of recovery, nothing else. Take satisfaction from any sponsee who comes to understand and believe in the CoDA program of recovery.

The 12 Tips are from the Bay Area Community Support Group © 2005